The eventing world is abuzz today with the news that Phillip Dutton is taking over the ride on one of the most successful horses in the world, Mr. Medicott. Jenni Autry reports.
Top: Karen O’Connor and Mr. Medicott at Barbury. Photo by Samantha Clark.
Phillip Dutton’s role as the new rider and manager for the Mr. Medicott Syndicate signals a very positive step in the right direction for this new era of U.S. eventing, one in which teamwork, collaboration and valuing the best interests of the horse are emphasized first and foremost. Dr. Mark Hart, chair of the Event Owners Task Force — which played an instrumental role in uniting new and existing members in the revamped Mr. Medicott Syndicate — spoke to me yesterday afternoon to offers a behind-the-scenes look at how Cave, a two-time Olympic competitor for Germany and the U.S., and Phillip, a two-time Olympic gold medallist for his native Australia, came to pair up as the newest dream team in U.S. eventing.
“This has been in the works for months, but finalizing everything took awhile,” Mark said. “The exciting thing was the existing syndicate members stayed on board. Team Rebecca really stood up to help make that happen, and Phillip was able to get his key supporters on board to fill the remaining syndicate shares. As Karen (O’Connor) has made it known through interviews, she was not able to fill the syndicate before her back injury. Once she got hurt, it became difficult to sell shares when no one knew who the eventual rider would be. For awhile, it was her hope that she could get back on and ride at a high level again, but it became apparent to her over time that wasn’t in the best interest for her or Cave.” That realization put a lot of pressure on all involved to find the right rider, one whom had the right FEI categorization to ensure that at 14 years old Cave didn’t have to compete more than he had to.
“You want to make sure every outing has a purpose so you can minimize any unnecessary stress on the horse and have him ready and sound for the big competitions,” Mark said. “Everybody was thinking about what was best for Mr. Medicott and the U.S. team. A lot of people came together with that principle in mind and forged new relationships to accomplish that. For me, that was an exciting development.” After input from Karen and the existing syndicate members, the EOTF looked at three riders as potential new riders and managers for the Mr. Medicott Syndicate, all of whom were contacted to see if they were interested. “We had to look at who had the best possibility of getting Cave to the next one or two team events, meaning WEG and the Olympics,” Mark said. “We knew it had to be a rider we all thought as a group would have the best probability to maximize the experience Cave already has. Phillip was the one who looked at his program and supporters and decided he wanted to move forward to acquire the ride.”
The new syndicate members — Bruce Duchossois, Annie Jones, Stephanie Speakman, Tom Tierney and Caroline Moran — joined the existing shareholders — Sarah and Jerome Broussard, Jacqueline Mars and Suzanne Lacey — to complete the Mr. Medicott Syndicate. The preservation of this existing syndicate — which ultimately kept the horse in the States competing for the U.S. — shows that the syndicate model remains a critical option when it comes to securing top horses for riders in this country. “It doesn’t have to be the only model, but it’s a very viable model in a lot of situations,” Mark said. “Every syndicate is different, and that’s what makes it so flexible under a variety of situations. Syndicates can be changed and adapted, which in this case allowed us to keep the original syndicate intact.”
Mark believes the partnership and team work displayed by the EOTF and shareholders to maintain the original syndicate indicates a major shift in the mentality of eventing ownership. “Owners are feeling like they’re part of the whole U.S. team now,” Mark said. “It’s not that they just own their horse; they’ve involved with the whole team. There’s an attitude that they’re in this together to give the best possible chance for the U.S. team to stand on the podium. Owners are showing up at top competitions even if their horse didn’t make the team. As someone who’s traveled with the team since 2002, that’s new. It’s going to make David (O’Connor’s) program even more successful and create additional opportunities for riders to have more top horses underneath them.”
Working in partnership with High Performance, the EOTF has also been able to help maximize and improve the ownership experience for shareholders through improved communications and special events, such as an owners’ course walk and reception at Rolex earlier this year. “There were more than 100 people on that course walk,” Mark said. “David and I were commenting after the reception that neither one of us had ever seen 75 High Performance owners together in the same room talking to each other. David is now giving owners’ course walks at every major national and international competition. It’s much more of an inclusive and welcoming team atmosphere now, and people are really excited about it. Owners are coming back for multiple syndications because they’re having such a good time and feel like they get so much out of it. That excitement is contagious.”